The death of Queen Elizabeth II on 8 September 2022 has led to a significant outpouring of emotion throughout much of the world, even in the United States which is not part of the British Commonwealth. Queen Elizabeth was on the throne before I was born. She reigned for seventy years – considerably longer even than the other two long-lasting queens, Elizabeth I and Victoria. She became queen when Winston Churchill was Prime Minister of Britain and Robert Menzies was Prime Minister of Australia. The vast majority of us have never known another monarch. As a Church, we have conveyed our deepest condolences to King Charles III, and assured him of our prayers in all his regal duties. But now we turn our attention to Elizabeth II who has passed from this earthly life. What can be said that nobody has not already said? Not much, but some things bear repeating.

            We should have a renewed appreciation of the blessings of civil peace, and be grateful for it. This should not be mistaken for the kingdom of God, and everlasting peace through the blood of the cross, but it is nevertheless a gift of common grace from God. The New Testament tells us to pray for kings and all those in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (1 Tim.2:2). Such a thing is pleasing to God (1 Tim.2:3), and it should be pleasing to us. It would be easy to distort this, and sentimentalise it, but Elizabeth II did epitomize something of this in her own demeanour and her devotion to duty. Even in times of crisis and anxiety, she exuded an air of civil peace.

            Yet the passing of such a long-lived monarch reminds us most emphatically that ‘it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment’ (Heb.9:27). All through First and Second Kings there is the refrain that one king after another ‘slept with his fathers’. One generation succeeds another. No one escapes death, and no one escapes the judgment. We shall all answer to the King of kings and Lord of lords. For the believer, that will be the moment above all other moments. Charles Wesley looked ahead: ‘till we cast our crowns before Thee, lost in wonder, love and praise.’ Here Lazarus the poor man in Luke 16 and David the king of Israel are as one before the everlasting King.

            Finally, we would do well to cite Elizabeth II herself on these matters of eternal significance. In 2011, during her Christmas message, she spoke most openly of her faith: ‘Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed. God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.’ One might wish to edit it a little – remove the word ‘sometimes’, for example – but she does get to the heart of the matter as she spoke of the wonders of forgiveness through the love of God in Christ Jesus. For good reasons, she seems to have had a particular liking for the best of the Christmas carols.

            Civil peace is a blessing from God which we ought to prize and make use of for the sake of the gospel, but there is a greater kingdom than any earthly regime. We shall come before the throne of Christ. To do so, we need not a philosopher or a general, but the Saviour of the word, Christ Himself. In Him there is forgiveness, and it was good that Queen Elizabeth II could speak of Him. May we all have ears to hear.

With warm regards in Christ,

Rev. Dr Peter Barnes, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Australia